Exclusion of Jerusalem from Democratic platform ignites controversy before language returns

Click photo to download. Caption: Jerusalem. Credit: Berthold Werner.

(JNS.org) Recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, at first controversially omitted from the 2012 Democratic Party Platform, will return to the document after three attempted voice votes at the party's convention in Charlotte, NC, on Wednesday.

On all three voice votes, a seemingly indistinguishable number of convention delegates shouted both "aye" and "no," but convention chair Antonio Villaraigosa, the mayor of Los Angeles, determined after the third attempt that the required two-thirds vote in favor of the measure was reached. Loud booing followed Villaraigosa's announcement.

"To hear delegates on the floor of the Democratic convention strongly voice their opposition to recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, then boo when the chairman passes the resolution to adopt that language, is a shock," Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC), said in a statement.

"This unfortunate incident highlights the split among rank and file Democrats when it comes to the critical issue of Israel, something we've seen for some time," Brooks added.

The Democratic platform had drawn criticism due to its omission of language on Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees, and Hamas that was previously present in the party’s official statements on Israel.

President Barack Obama has an “unshakable commitment to Israel’s security,” the platform stated, citing his administration’s allocation of “nearly $10 billion in the past three years” to help maintain the Jewish state’s qualitative military edge. Through diplomatic support, Obama has displayed “steadfast opposition to any attempt to delegitimize Israel on the world stage,” the platform added.

In 2004 and 2008, but initially not in 2012, the Democratic platform said Jerusalem “is and will remain the capital of Israel” and called for the resolution of the Palestinian refugee issue “by allowing them to settle [in a Palestinian state], rather than in Israel.” The RJC on Tuesday expressed “outrage” that the platform stripped "recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel from the party’s official policy document.” On Wednesday, before the Jerusalem language had been restored, the RJC announced the placement of an advertisement on its removal in the Charlotte Observer as well as Jewish newspapers in the swing states of Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Nevada.

The RJC ad highlighted the removal of “strong pro-Israel language that was in the 2008 [Democratic] platform.” Every Democratic platform from 1972 to 2008—expect for 1988—“affirmed Jerusalem as capital of Israel,” the group noted in a press release.

On Tuesday, the National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) explained that President George W. Bush “signed waivers 16 times to avoid moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.”

“Jewish Democrats know full well that Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel,” NJDC President David A. Harris said in a statement. “We—like President George W. Bush before and leaders of both parties for decades—also know that the final status of Jerusalem will have to be formally decided by the parties. This should come as a surprise to nobody.”

Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, speaking at the Western Wall this summer, affirmed Jerusalem as Israel’s eternal capital and vowed to move the U.S. embassy there. But despite Congress’s passage of a resolution in 1995 calling for the embassy’s relocation to Jerusalem, every U.S. president since that year has kept the embassy in Tel Aviv.

By comparison, the 2012 Republican platform says: “We support Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state with secure, defensible borders; and we envision two democratic states—Israel with Jerusalem as its capital and Palestine—living in peace and security.” Romney, in a statement Tuesday, called it “unfortunate that the entire Democratic Party has embraced President Obama’s shameful refusal to acknowledge that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital.”

The Republican platform in 2008 said “We support Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel and moving the American embassy to that undivided capital of Israel,” but did not contain such language in 2012, Harris noted Wednesday.

“No reference to an undivided capital, no reference to America’s embassy—gone,” he said. “Does this mean the Republican Party is suddenly anti-Israel? Of course not. But it does mean that GOP leaders pointing fingers [at Democrats] are wildly hypocritical—given this change and others.”

Former congressman Robert Wexler, who helped draft the Democrats’ platform, called criticism of the Jerusalem omission “total cherry-picking of the language” and “completely absurd in terms of trying to fabricate some kind of stepping back [on considering Jerusalem to be Israel’s capital],” according to the Jerusalem Post. But Congressman Steny Hoyer (D-MD), the Democrats’ Minority Whip in the House, told the Post “I wouldn’t have taken it out” when asked about the Jerusalem language.

The 2012 Democratic platform also removed language from 2008 calling for continued sanctions against Hamas. Regarding the Iranian nuclear threat, the platform said Obama has “made clear that the window for diplomacy will not remain open indefinitely and that all options—including military force—remain on the table.” However, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey’s recent statement that he does not want to be “complicit” in a potential Israeli strike on Iran has fueled concern about the administration’s military support for Israel.

Washington Post commentator Jennifer Rubin wrote that the platform “is the most radically unsupportive statement of policy on Israel by any major party since the founding of the state of Israel.” NJDC’s Harris, offering a polar-opposite take, said the Obama administration “has the most pro-Israel record of any on record.”

“From record aid to Israel to unsurpassed supplemental missile defense to heightened military cooperation to an unprecedented perfect voting record at the United Nations to gathering a global coalition against Iran, President Barack Obama has tirelessly worked to strengthen the special partnership between the United States and Israel,” Harris said.

Posted on September 4, 2012 .